Producer/director Arthur Rouse and the staff of his company, Video Editing Services in Lexington, faced some intimidating challenges while producing a documentary on the civil rights movement in Kentucky.
The first task was obvious. The stories had to be visual. It was, after all, a television documentary. So Rouse and his staff would have to track down archival film, video, and photographs and find people to interview about the struggle for civil rights for African Americans in Kentucky.
We got a lot of help from several sources, says Rouse. The Courier-Journal and University of Louisville opened their archives, and Rouses team worked with every archivist and museum in Kentucky.
They also used national resources, obtaining artifacts from the Library of Congress, NBC, and ABC. As a matter of fact, Rouse says their request prompted ABC to dig deep into un-catalogued archives, where the researchers found all kinds of footage of the civil rights movement that theyd forgotten they had.
Rouse also dugfigurativelyinto the attics and garages of those who were prominent in the civil rights movement in Kentucky to find the visual evidence to illustrate their stories.
You have to ask people several times if theyve saved anything, says Rouse. People always say they dont have anything, but then the fourth or fifth time you ask them, theyll say something about an old film in a box somewhere that nobody cares about. They dont realize that what they have is a treasure.
The Kentucky Oral History Commission, the Kentucky Historical Society, and the Advisory Board of the Kentucky Civil Rights Project were crucial playersconsulting on the content and accuracy of the documentary, providing archival photographs and film, and knowing the people who had a story to tell and who could tell a story.
But there was another challenge: The documentary would have to engage the general KET viewing audience and appeal to high school students.
We needed to make it more cool for kids, says Rouse. I didnt want to use any shaky cam effects, but I didnt think kids would enjoy seeing just some old-timers talking about the good ol days.
To find out how to appeal to young people, Rouse held two focus groups. Teenagers were asked what they already knew about the civil rights movement in Kentucky and what they wanted to know, what they like to watch and what turns them off, and what they think about using television in the classroom.
Rouse said the two groups were unanimous on one particular issue: They didnt want a historian telling them what happened. They wanted to see people tell their own stories, then make up their own minds about what happened.
These kids are very savvy, says Rouse. They know when theyre being manipulated by sound bites and images, and they dont like it.
Rouse proposed a thematic approach to the documentary treatmentfocusing on young people who took courageous stands and risked their lives for civil rights. I wanted it to be historically correct and useful to teachers and not a sentimental journey, he explains. But I didnt want it to be a chronological, linear account of what happened.
Throughout the documentary, Rouse used old photographs to underscore the theme of courageous young people.
In each seven-second slate, you see a portion of the interview and then you see what we call the fashion victim photograph of the person at the time of the movement, says Rouse. Teenagers see other teenagers doing really courageous things.
Rouse also used a map of Kentucky to show where various incidents took place to further emphasize the history of the movement in the Commonwealth.
Meeting all the challenges while producing the documentary just about killed his staff, Rouse says. But the result made it worthwhile. Kentuckians now have a portrait of an important chapter in Kentucky and U.S. history, and weve preserved on tape the living histories of the civil rights movement in Kentucky.